The 'Insipid' Mr. Obama Goes to China

Days before a high-level summit with Xi Jinping in Beijing, a major Chinese newspaper rips on the American president.

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping, left. The two world leaders will meet this month in Beijing for the APEC summit. (Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/Reuters)

One day after his Democratic Party endured a shellacking in the midterm elections and lost control of the Senate, President Obama has gotten rough treatment from the international media. Some piled on before election returns were already in. Writing on Tuesday, China's Global Times was particularly withering:

Obama always utters "Yes, we can," which led to the high expectations people had for him. But he has done an insipid job, offering nearly nothing to his supporters. U.S. society has grown tired of his banality.

For a newspaper known for its nationalist slant, such rhetoric isn't at all unusual. But the timing in this case is awkward: President Obama is set to travel to China to participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, scheduled to kick off on Friday in Beijing. The visit to China will be Obama's first since 2009, when the then-new president dazzled a student audience at a town hall-style meeting in Shanghai. The summit will feature the most important meetings between Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping since the two met in California last June.

Could the Global Times editorial signal a shifting Chinese attitude about the American leader?

Probably not. Although the Global Times is state-owned and subject to China's censorship laws, the newspaper doesn't function as a direct Communist Party mouthpiece. Instead, the Times is something of a Chinese Fox News, promoting a muscular viewpoint of the country's place in the world. This, unsurprisingly, entails frequent criticism of the United States, with whom China competes for diplomatic influence around the world.

Even if the Global Times doesn't speak for China's top leadership, it's clear that Xi Jinping is approaching the bilateral relationship with more confidence than before. Xi has said repeatedly that he seeks a "new model for a great power relationship," an indication that he no longer wishes China to be the junior partner. Hugh White, a professor of Strategic Studies at Australian National University and an expert on China, said to Foreign Policy that Xi "wants a new order in which China plays at least an equal leadership role with the United States, and perhaps more."

With a Republican-dominated Congress certain to bottle up his domestic agenda, President Obama could seek foreign policy achievements in order to salvage the last two years of his presidency. The Global Times, for what it's worth, isn't optimistic.

"U.S. society selected Obama, but there is no great American president in this era."